Every year, in the cold of early spring, we dutifully rebuild our floating duck nests in time for mallard mating and nesting season. It took several years of tweaking and observing before we devised a nest that could withstand both storms and jealous goose attacks.
Although we always have at least one successful hatching, this year we had two, and were able to observe as the second nest of 10 baby mallards fledged from one of our “prototype” floating nests and followed Mama Duck into the grass surrounding the pond. Within moments of their fledging, a third mallard couple claimed the nest site.
Because our pond does not provide sufficient cover, we’ve only ever seen baby mallards briefly after fledging, just before Mama Duck hustles them into the grass on shore, and on into the woods. Every year, we wish we could watch as “our” babies grow up.
Last week we were a release site for a baker’s dozen of teenage mallards from the wildlife clinic on Billingsley Road in Columbus.
In the 20+ years since I moved to the Columbus area, I’ve brought numerous rescues to the wildlife clinic: baby squirrels knocked from a tree during a storm, a turtle hit by a car, a baby screech owl that was the nearly dead runt of a nest of four, and a juvenile red tail hawk that had been hit in traffic.
The clinic is equipped to raise and/or provide medical care for, and then release wild animals, and volunteers will send a postcard upon request to let you know how the story ended.
The teenage mallards were part of a collection of 50+ baby ducks that were brought to the clinic for various reasons – commonly the mother is hit in traffic, babies get washed down storm sewers, or are simply found fending for themselves for reasons unknown.
They’re raised on a farm owned by a clinic volunteer until old enough for release, and then it is the job of volunteers at the clinic to find sites that are suitable, chase, catch, and transport them.
They arrived in pet carriers just over one week ago.
The day after “our” teenagers arrived, Mama Duck #3 took an incubation break to see what all the duck commotion was about. Immediately, all 13 teenage ducks of varying sizes made a beeline for her. It was sadly sweet to see how they yearned for a mama, but equally comical to know immediately by her reaction what she was thinking: “Oh, no! I have a few more days of peace before this starts!”
She communicated this to the horde of would-be adoptees in just a few short quacks, and they seemed to immediately understand and backed up, watching her in a way that can only be described as wistful as she swam away back to her nest.
A few days passed and the teenagers have stuck closely together and seem be mothering each other as they dabble around in the pond for food, and compete for their daily feedings of floating duck food left by the volunteers.
Today the floating nest is empty and Mama Duck #3 and her newly hatched babies have joined the melee on the pond, and the teenagers seem more than happy to help with the mothering.
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Posted by Patty Shipley.